Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Sunshine Vitamin - Why Christians need the Holy Spirit.

One afternoon when I was twelve, my grandmother drove me to a friend's house. She asked me, "Have you ever spoken in tongues?"

I didn't know what she meant, so I told her I hadn't. "What is that anyway?" I asked.

"Well, some people say it's praying, but they speak in gibberish over and over again. If anyone asks you to do it, don't. It's not right. Matthew 6:7 says we shouldn't babble like the pagans do."

Since none of it made sense to me, I let it go. A few months later, I read 1 Corinthians and wondered why my grandmother didn't talk about this part of the Bible when she mentioned speaking in tongues.

Growing up in the Baptist tradition, we didn't talk much about the Holy Spirit. Then, when I began attending an Assemblies of God school at the age of thirteen, I heard about the Holy Spirit all the time. On one hand, the Holy Spirit was the part of the Trinity we talked about during baptism, or He was the thing that helped me make sense of the Bible. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit made church a party and everyone got awesome gifts. It was hard to know which side was right.

Emotions can run high with a topic like this. I've written on the Holy Spirit before, once or twice, but today I want to talk about some basic reasons why Christians need the Holy Spirit.

Yes, yes, I know. The gifts and work of the Holy Spirit have been abused or counterfeited enough to freak out some more conservative Christians. And yes, some of their objections are legitimate. Of course, some of those objections have caused people to overreact. I've seen something of both sides in this conflict. That's why I want to look at what scripture says and see how it can answer some questions from both sides.

First, the Holy Spirit is a part of the Trinity. He is not only a distinct person but also the active presence of God in the world. Genesis 1:2 notes the Spirit separately from God the Father in verse 1. Verses like Exodus 35:31 with the Hebrew craftsmen, Numbers 11:25 with the tribal elders, and Judges 6:34 with Gideon show the Holy Spirit coming upon men and giving them special ability to do God's work in the world. Priests, judges, prophets, and kings were typically men who moved in the power of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. More than this, though, the Old Testament gives a very special key to understanding the importance of the Holy Spirit.

The Tabernacle in the law of Moses, and later the Temple in Jerusalem, served as the place where God's Spirit dwelt with His people. God instructed Moses to build the Tabernacle for this purpose in Exodus 25:8, "Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them." In a world where sin separated man from God's presence, the Temple was the only place where man could come into the presence of God.

Terry Virgo noted this as the primary reason why the disciples followed Jesus. They wanted to be with Him. When Jesus told His disciples of the day when He would leave, He said in John 16:6-7, "But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper (that is the Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you" Sorrow filled their hearts, said Virgo, because of the thought they wouldn't be with Jesus, God the Son, anymore. Jesus understood this, which is why He knew it would comfort them to know, "I'm leaving, but God the Spirit will come in my place." And this was better, said Virgo, because though Jesus could be with some people some of the time, the Holy Spirit could be with all believers all of the time.

In the New Testament church, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would give His followers power to spread the gospel (Acts 1:8). This was first demonstrated on Pentecost in Acts 2 when the Spirit moved among those praying in the upper room. The Apostle Paul taught on the gifts of the Spirit, ways in which the Holy Spirit manifested among people to glorify God, in 1 Corinthians 12-14. In this section of scripture, Paul talks of prophecy, speaking in tongues (or other languages unknown to the speaker), interpretation of tongues, and healing. These are just some of the gifts mentioned throughout the epistles.

It's obvious that Christians should value the Holy Spirit, not only as God, but also in terms of His presence at work among them. Jesus thought it important enough to encourage His disciples with the coming Spirit. Paul felt it essential for the Ephesian disciples in Acts 19 to be filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit. In the Acts 2 sermon, Peter said those who believed in Jesus would receive the Holy Spirit.

My objection to some of the things I saw in the charismatic movement had nothing to do with the gifts themselves, but rather the lack of fruit I sometimes saw in people. By that, I mean the fruit of the Spirit Paul listed in Galatians 5:22-23. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law"

In The Holy Spirit And You, Dennis and Rita Bennet made an appeal for maturity in the charismatic movement. Bennet said he heard some say they couldn't control themselves when the Spirit came upon them. First, he quoted 1 Corinthians 14:32, "the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets." That's not to say we control The Spirit, but rather people experiencing a legitimate prophetic gift should exercise self-control, one of the Galatians 5 fruits of the Spirit. Bennet compares it to how a person responds to a dirty joke. A mature person will exercise self-control and keep himself from laughing if it's inappropriate.

What have your experiences been? If you grew up in the church, did you have any experience with the Holy Spirit? Or was the experience of God your only topic? Do you know if you've received the Holy Spirit into your life, allowed Him to work in you? Or, if you're not a Christian, do you have some confusion between the Holy Spirit and any other spiritual experience you might have encountered? Do you think there's a difference? At this stage, I hope you now know we can't ignore the Holy Spirit. He is as essential to Christian life as sunlight to vitamin D, our faith isn't much good without Him.

1 comment:

Dan Knight said...

Isaiah,

Growing up in a traditional, moderately conservative, slightly evangelical church, the Holy Spirit was pretty much off the radar - and then our denomination published a position paper on the gifts and work of the Spirit which pretty much said, "these things may be of God, but they can be divisive, so we shouldn't seek them."

My first real exposure came after college, when my college roommate called to share things he was seeing at CBN University that blew his mind, especially healings. He eventually came for a visit, prayed for me, and I received the freedom to pray and praise God in an unknown tongue.

For the most part, I have not been involved with churches that promote the gifts of the Spirit, and I'm okay with that. They are not core to the Christian faith, although they are a rich and abundant blessing God pours out on his people who are willing to receive it.

The Holy Spirit:

1. Convicts us of sin, of our unworthiness to approach a holy God.

2. Draws us god-ward, where the love of our Heavenly Father and the blood of our Blessed Savior washes us clean from sin.

3. Lives within us as fully as we allow.

4. Let's us be certain of our salvation.

5. Causes the fruits of the Spirit to grow in our lives as we bask in the sunshine of God's love and grow in the faith.

6. Allows us to hear from God and respond - sometimes audibly, sometimes through Scripture, sometimes by a nudge, sometimes by overwheming us, sometimes by giving us words to speak or actions to take.

I was marked by the Spirit long before I knew God. I was shaped by the Spirit long before I went from knowing Jesus as Savior to bowing before him as Lord. I am growing as I attempt to live "all in" before God and do my best to follow the Spirit's prompting.

I've come a long ways from the legalism, pragmatism, and matter-of-factness of my childhood religion because God the Father loved me, Jesus paid the price, and the Spirit impelled me god-ward.